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13 September 2001

Care for a Traumatized Nation

UCSF mental health experts and counselors have made themselves available to individuals, groups and the media to help a community that has witnessed a national tragedy and carnage burned forever into memories.

"The main thing I would tell people is that their reaction, their shaken confidence and the emotions it generates, is a normal part of the process of regaining psychological balance after being exposed to the events of Tuesday, which threw them off balance initially," said Daniel Weiss, PhD, UCSF professor of psychiatry and expert in post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Feelings of sadness, anger, empathy, concern, compassion, and anxiety are all expectable and understandable," said Weiss, one of many UCSF therapists offering advice after the terrorist attack on New York and Washington DC. "I also think it will be helpful to people to anticipate that there will be waves of feelings in the days and weeks to come and that these feelings are expectable and just another part of the process of regaining psychological balance."

In a section of his new book, Stress Response Syndromes, Personality Styles and Intervention, Mardi Horowitz, MD, professor of psychiatry discusses social support for persons who have been exposed to traumatic events. Discussing events "provides opportunities for communication with a sense of connection to others," he advises.

Activities should include time for respite, he says. "It is important for the person to feel that it is all right to rest, use humor or change to non-coping activities for a period of restoration," writes Horowitz.

The effect of Tuesday's tragedy on children of all ages has been a concern of many, and UCSF experts have been quick to offer their help. Several in the department of psychiatry have shared their knowledge in interviews with newspapers and television stations, and staff at the UCSF Children's Medical Center Child Life Services distributed a helpful list of suggestions on how to aid children during a national crisis.

Adults who witnessed the harrowing images on television, too, may need a long, difficult adjustment even after the initial shock and anger have passed, say mental health experts.

People in the US experienced a profound sense of loss, said Nancy Adler, a psychologist and director of the Center for Health and Community, told the San Francisco Chronicle. Lost is "the necessary illusion of feeling that everything is under control," she said.

In weeks, most will recover from the stress of Tuesday's events, said Thomas Neylan, medical director of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Program at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. But 15 to 30 percent of people "are going to be haunted by images of collapsing buildings," he said in an interview with the Chronicle.

For some, more troubles will surface in coming days. "When it becomes clear how many have died, it will touch us more directly," said Neylan. "Millions of people will know somebody who died, because of the magnitude of this."

Rev. Rod Seeger, director of Spiritual Care Services at the Medical Center, agrees that the need for counseling may actually increase next week or later. His group already has provided counseling to a few individuals in the past two days. Those services, as well as others offered by UCSF schools and departments, are detailed in a message Tuesday from Chancellor Michael Bishop.

The UCSF Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) announced Wednesday that it will provide several drop-in group counseling sessions, beginning today (September 13).

The following are other updates related to the campus' response to this week's tragedy:

· The Department of Psychiatry at SFGHMC is holding sessions for faculty and staff to discuss feelings and reactions to this week's national disaster and to get tips for caring for themselves and loved ones. The one-hour support sessions will be held: Thursday, September 13 -- 7-8 a.m. in Hospital 7M30; 3-4 p.m., 7E2; 5-6 p.m., 7M30; Friday, September 14 -- 7-8 a.m. in 7M30; 3-4 p.m., 7M30.

· Student Health Services has counselors available for UCSF students. For more information, call 476-1281.

· Some 300 students, staff and faculty donated blood at the UCSF Blood Bank on Tuesday. Anyone still wishing to donate blood may do so at one of two UCSF sites: Parnassus, Long Hospital 131, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.; Mount Zion, 1701 Divisadero (second floor), Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m. Call 353-1809 for more information.

· A UC Berkeley professor and two computer science students have created a web site to help the public find out about the safety of loved ones affected by the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC. (Link to the web site.) The Web site allows individuals in the affected areas to post information about their status and for their loved ones to find out if they are safe. To search for this information through the Internet, people can enter the party's name, zip code, last four digits of phone number, birth date and other personal information.  





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